Work-in-progress: Using hardware-based programming experiences to enhance student learning in a senior feedback controls lecture course

Johne M. Parker, Stephen L. Canfield, Sheikh Khaled Ghafoor, Kassy Moy Lum

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This paper describes proposed enhancements in the re-design of a senior-level Mechanical Engineering Feedback Controls course. Though several changes in course design have been made over the sequence of three successive offerings of the course, the primary focus of this paper is improving students' ability to apply programming and computational problem-solving skills to understand and solve Controls problems. This investigation builds upon a model to use hardware to integrate programming experiences throughout the curriculum; in the model, the three learning principles deemed critical for success are student engagement, knowledge transfer and self-directed learning. In traditional Controls lecture courses, core course concepts are generally considered to be a bit abstract to a considerable percentage of students and there are often disconnects between theoretical course concepts, computational solution techniques and the behavior of real-world systems. Each of these challenges inhibit the three principles deemed critical for success in learning and it is posited in this paper that the introduction of programming involving hardware in the Controls course will enhance the three principles, resolve disconnects and improve overall student learning. The proposed re-design introduces programming experiences performed on micro-controller hardware to illustrate key topics and solution methods (e.g., system modeling and controller design) into a traditional Feedback Controls lecture course. The authors have previously taught the course numerous times, so a well-paced course schedule and solid foundation of course notes are already in place. Additionally, hybrid and problem-based learning (PBL) techniques have been incorporated into prior offerings, which enhances student engagement and allows both sufficient time to introduce programming modules and the ability of the instructor/research assistant (RA)/teaching assistant (TA) team to give necessary assistance and feedback during the programming experiences. A hands-on programming toolkit developed by Canfield and Abdelrahman1 for direct programming of micro-controller units (MCUs) uses MatLab as the programming environment. Using this toolkit, MCUs have been used to teach initial programming skills to engineering students in a context that matches their notions of engineering. In the Feedback Controls course, the model will be used to enhance programming skills in in a context that enhances senior students' understanding of a somewhat abstract area of Mechanical Engineering. The overall goal is for students to be able to apply and observe the implementation of control algorithms on real-world hardware, without being hampered by significant obstacles or requirements for implementation. The MatLab-to-MCU toolbox effectively addresses this challenge, allowing students to implement their control algorithms using MatLab, a language they have previously used to simulate system response, "directly" on micro-controllers with little additional overhead requirements. In particular, a series of labs are proposed for implementation using the MatLab-to-MCU toolbox via a Motorola processor implemented on a Dragon12 evaluation board. Proposed activities and assessment instruments are described and compared to the traditional (lecturebased) and hybrid-learning/problem-based formats. The paper concludes with a description of the current status, proposed assessment instruments to analyze the efficacy of the model in upper-level coursework and proposed next steps.

Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2013
Event120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Atlanta, GA, United States
Duration: Jun 23 2013Jun 26 2013


Conference120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAtlanta, GA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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